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Deal Administration Releases “Opportunity School District” Legislation

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Republished by Charter Confidential.

Governor Nathan Deal’s administration began to build the intellectual equity case for his “Opportunity School District” initiative today during a joint House-Senate education committees hearing at the State Capitol. Deal is asking this year’s General Assembly to put a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot that if approved by voters would give the state a new tool to combat failing schools.

The worst failing schools could essentially become “wards of the state” until they are fixed or suffer some other fate. Deal has said 23 percent of Georgia public schools graded “D” or “F” for three consecutive years.  The administration needs two-thirds approval by the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment before voters in  November, 2016.  Georgia is considered a school choice leader because of progress in charter schools and tax credit scholarships but it does not have a recovery school option.

The Governor’s Office announced legislation today:  “In the governor’s proposal, persistently failing schools are defined as those scoring below 60 on the Georgia Department of Education’s accountability measure, the College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI), for three consecutive years. The Opportunity School District would take in no more than 20 schools per year, meaning it would govern no more than 100 at any given time. Schools would stay in the district for no less than five years but no more than 10 years.”

The administration did not testify about specific legislation during the State Capitol hearing, relying instead on building-the-case witnesses from two neighboring states — Louisiana and Tennessee — that have similar models.  In Louisiana they are called recovery schools and in Tennessee they are called achievement schools.  The intent is the same, to provide an alternative option to rescue failed schools.  With alternatives come challenges and questions including facilities, funding, attendance zones, attracting high quality teaching and leadership talent and accountability.  All of these will undoubtedly be addressed many times during the General Assembly’s consideration of Governor Deal’s proposal.

The final moments of the two-hour hearing might have been the most dramatic when Sam Rauschenberg, Deputy Director at the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA), testified that millions of dollars spent in Race to the Top education federal grants does not appear to have made much difference at public schools where those millions were invested.  The question he was asked and his answer are quoted at the bottom of this article.  This exchange makes a compelling argument that spending money, more money, does not by itself work.

Here is a description of the House – Senate committee hearing discussion as it occurred.  Note: the joint committee did not release an advance witness list.  The hearing was held at the Coverdell Office Building across from the State Capitol.  Watching online, the room seems packed to overflow, including senior policy advisers from the Governor’s Office.

1:10 – 1:45 p.m. — The first portion of the hearing has been devoted to witnesses from Louisiana who are discussing the state’s use of recovery school districts, especially since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated public education facilities, specifically in New Orleans. The first witness is Paul Pastorek, former Louisiana school superintendent and considered a reformer in public education accountability. (Click here to learn about his work.)  Recovery school districts were in place in 2005 but the state moved to re-emphasize non-traditional models as it rebuilt the ravaged public education system.  The second witness is Neerav Kingsland, chief executive officer at New Schools for New Orleans (click here) since May 2012.  New Schools is frequently cited as an education success story.

1:45 p.m. — Former Tennessee commissioner of education Kevin Huffman is discussing the state’s “Achievement School Districts” which are an alternative to traditional K-12 public education classrooms.  Charter schools are one part of this structure.  Huffman talked about trying to “make a match” between what communities need and charter schools that best fit the needs.  Huffman said one of the greatest constraints on growth is finding great leaders and teachers.  Memphis is a target area for this education innovation.  There currently are 16 Tennessee achievement schools.  Huffman said, “The early signs are promising but I think it’s early to judge because we have so few schools.  We look at New Orleans and that is what we want. We want the schools in Memphis to improve” similar to successes seen in Louisiana.  Huffman resigned his commissioner’s appointment in January 2015.

2:00 p.m. — The next witness is Sam Rauschenberg, Deputy Director at the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA).  A native Georgian, Rauschenberg moved to New Orleans in 2007 after he graduated with honors from Georgia College.  Rauschenberg taught math for three years at Joseph S. Clark High School in New Orleans. He described the experience as “a tremendous struggle” because many students could not perform at or anything near grade level.  The school converted to a recovery school model several years ago; Rauschenberg said today overall academic performance at Joseph S. Clark High School has increased about 20 percent.

2:05 p.m. — Question Time from Senate and House members.  At this point there has not been any presentation about Governor Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District.  Committee members are asking questions to the Louisiana and Tennessee witnesses about accountability, how the states attracted quality instructional talent and whether charter schools were for-profit or non-profit models.

2:50 p.m. — Toward the end of the discussion Senator Donzella James asked a lengthy question. In part, she said, “Who is going to identify chronically failing schools, what’s the root cause of them and are we just taking money away from the public school system rather than putting more in it which seemed to be the reason that we were having the problems in the first place?”  Her question was directed to Sam Rauschenberg.  This was his response:

“I haven’t been in all the conversations about the bill but I will say our agency (GOSA) has been part of the evaluation work, the Race to the Top work, much of which was to turn around low-performing schools.  The state received a significant infusion of money for low achieving schools as well as school improvement grants (from) the federal government.  A lot of these schools got millions of dollars to do so and our analysis which is available on our website showed that only a few of those have made some gains but overall they have not made tremendous gains.  The model that was chosen was a transformation model which had very limited changes in the overall structure of the schools relative to the other options but there was a significant infusion of money into those schools over a three-year period.  I would go to those as examples of schools that were low-performing and had a lot of resources to answer that part of your question.”

3:00 p.m. — The meeting concluded.  No next meeting was announced.

(Mike Klein has written about Georgia K-12 public education since 2010.  He held executive positions with CNN where he was Vice President of News Production, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Georgia Public Broadcasting.  Mike on LinkedIn.)

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February 11, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Next Move for Georgia Justice Reform Belongs to Legislators

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Republished by Right on Crime and Capitol@Issue.

Georgia legislators will soon have the opportunity to reconfigure the state’s troubled adult misdemeanor private probation industry, redesign juvenile justice technology information tools and with some urging from their governor, create a new state agency to manage the tangled web of services to help released inmates transition back into their communities. Given the General Assembly’s track record of overwhelming support for previous justice reforms the ideas that you see discussed here are quite likely to happen.

The vision for these changes is contained in the 2014–2015 Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform (CCJR) report that was unanimously approved by its members late last week. More than just a reflection of new policy ideas, the 72-page document fully chronicles the history of Georgia’s current justice reform that began with Governor Nathan Deal’s inauguration in January 2011.

Dozens of CCJR recommendations are contained in the report. A few are game-changers:

Adult Misdemeanor Probation

Last spring Governor Deal vetoed a misdemeanor probation reform bill because it would have exempted providers from the Open Records Act. An official state audit was highly critical of the financial practices of some providers and it said some exceeded their legal authorities. Then in December the state Supreme Court overturned “tolling,” the long-standing practice under which arrest warrants were issued and sentences were paused when offenders failed to report or fulfill their court-ordered obligations. Justices said the state has no legal authority for those actions.

The Council said private probation providers should be placed under tighter financial scrutiny including strict disclosure rules. The Council recommended the adoption of community service options for misdemeanor probationers when they are delinquent paying fines or fees because of financial insolvency. At the same time, delinquent probationers would be guaranteed a hearing before new discipline. Further, the Council said that “tolling” should be enacted into law.

Juvenile Justice Information Sharing

Players in the adult criminal justice system have access to deep data that is maintained by the Georgia Crime Information Center at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Players in the juvenile justice system have nothing remotely close to the sophisticated adult system. The Council recommendation is to create a very sophisticated juvenile justice information system.

Under the CJRC proposal the Council of Juvenile Court Judges would create a “dictionary” of common terms for the purposes of statewide reporting. A data exchange would be created to share the information and a data depository would be updated daily by individual courts for use by all juvenile courts statewide and for purposes of statewide reporting. This project would bring together several entities and it would carefully comply with federal laws about juvenile records.

Department of Community Supervision

Last month Deal used his State of the State address to propose creation of DCS to assist released offenders toward a successful transition back to the free world.  The big idea here is to coordinate the tools to help reduce recidivism. DCS would likely have up to 2,000 employees drawn from adult corrections, juvenile justice and pardons and parole. The Council recommended that the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Re-Entry should move from adult corrections to DCS. It also recommended moving the County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council that oversees probation officers and private entities.

The three ideas discussed here are just a small portion of the CCJR report. There is a link below to the complete document. The Council will reconvene in late spring after the 2015 General Assembly concludes.

The agenda will likely include whether cases that involve 17-year-olds should be heard in adult courts – that is current Georgia law – or in juvenile courts, which is where you will find age 17 cases in more than 40 states. This year’s Council heard testimony but concluded it needs more information before making any recommendation. Mandatory minimum sentencing options and new discussions about community-based mental health services could also work their way onto the 2015 – 2016 agenda.

Additional Resources

2014 – 2015 GA Criminal Justice Reform Council Report

Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Council Website

Georgia’s New Justice Agency Would Have Massive Footprint

Attacking the Bad Headlines Around Misdemeanor Private Probation

Georgia Targets Huge Gap With Juvenile Justice Databank Project

(Mike Klein has written about Georgia criminal justice reform since 2010.  He held executive positions with CNN where he was Vice President of News Production, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Georgia Public Broadcasting.  Mike on LinkedIn.)

February 10, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Targets Huge Gap with Juvenile Justice Databank Project

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

For discussion purposes, let’s imagine you are a juvenile court judge somewhere in Georgia. A young man and his attorney are standing before you, pleading the boy’s case. Within minutes you will decide whether the boy is sentenced to detention or a community-based program.

Something about how the young man tells his story makes you question, what else is going on here?  Has this kid been kicking around without a family, without role models, without direction and what he needs is help or, is this one of those kids who really needs to be off the streets?  Is this kid about to hurt himself or someone else?  What is the right decision here?

So knowing that these questions must be answered you log onto the state’s massive juvenile justice databank that contains everything you need. The young man’s entire legal record is there, all his previous interactions with the juvenile justice system, a record of every arrest, all previous court decisions, outstanding warrants for other alleged crimes committed in any county statewide.

It’s all there, everything you need to decide between detention and a treatment program.

Except that it’s not there because, astonishingly, there is no statewide juvenile justice databank. An adult databank – the Georgia Crime Information Center — is maintained at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. There is no comparable juvenile resource. Georgia juvenile judges sometimes operate in a weird blind man’s alley when they try to understand the true picture about a troubled kid.  Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steve Teske has said sometimes he uses his cell phone from the bench to contact other judges who might know something about a juvenile who is standing before him in court.

That should start to change next year with the anticipated creation of a juvenile justice data dictionary and repository that would be accessible throughout law enforcement. The Council on Criminal Justice Reform (CCJR) appointed by Governor Nathan Deal has worked on the project all year. It unanimously approved recommendations during a meeting this week in Atlanta.

Pulling this idea together meant coordinating stakeholders who have reason to make this work:

• The Council of Juvenile Court Judges technology committee would create a dictionary of defined data elements to be used for the statewide reporting of all juvenile justice data. An electronic exchange that complies with U.S. Justice Department global justice data sharing standards would be created to share the information.
• Data would be accessible through a new electronic repository that would be maintained in a partnership between the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Council of Juvenile Court Judges and the Administrative Office of the Courts. Information would be updated daily and would be available to individual courts and for statewide reporting purposes.
• Further, the Department of Juvenile Justice would fund the entire project because it is the single state entity that is responsible for housing youth and state juvenile records.

The Council recommendation does not include a fiscal note. It also does not propose legislation during the 2015 General Assembly. Next year would be devoted to creating and launching the model under the auspices of the Council of Juvenile Court Judges and the CCJR with an expectation that the dictionary and its usage would be recommended as a state law in 2016.

In the juvenile justice oversight committee meeting on Tuesday, December 2, CCJR co-chair Thomas Worthy said there is “concern over not only what we are collecting but how we do it.” The electronic data dictionary and exchange would focus on pre-disposition risk assessment, detention assessment data and overall juvenile case disposition.

“One of the biggest problems we’ve had in general including juvenile courts is data and we have it across the broad spectrum of agencies in the state,” said Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs who co-chairs the Council with Worthy. “We’ve got a lot of duplication of effort, a lot of collection of data that will ultimately drive public policy but only if it is accurate.”

The Council’s 2014 final report due next month will also include recommendations to change how the state handles adult misdemeanor probation. This political hot potato came into focus during 2014 when an internal state audit was highly critical of privately-managed misdemeanor probation practices. This year Governor Deal vetoed a misdemeanor probation reform bill because he felt that it lacked transparency. The state Supreme Court also ruled on a private probation case in November.

The Council’s final report will be submitted to Governor Deal and the Legislature in mid-to-late January. The 2015 General Assembly opens on Monday, January 12, at the State Capitol in Atlanta.

(Mike Klein has held executive leadership positions with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia Public Broadcasting and CNN where he was Vice President of News Production.  His justice articles have been republished by the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s “Right on Crime” initiative.  Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Approves Aggressive Blueprint for Prisoner Reentry Initiative

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Georgia criminal justice reform will push the pedal hard over the next several months with rapid expansion of the state’s prisoner reentry initiative. Millions of federal grant dollars will become seed money for fifteen pilot project sites starting now through the 2017 calendar year. The goal is to give released inmates a better chance to succeed when they go outside the walls.

“If we really want to impact statewide recidivism reduction we’ve got to make sure we are targeting our resources on the right individuals and, by the way, the right interventions as well,” says Jay Neal, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry.

The state Council on Criminal Justice Reform voted to approve a three-year prisoner reentry initiative (GA-PRI) when it met this week in Atlanta. The Council also approved a presentation Georgia will make during a Pew Charitable Trusts conference next month in San Diego.

Recidivism is the rate at which prisoners are re-arrested for a felony crime within three years of their prison release. Georgia’s historic rate has hovered at about 30 percent. The GA-PRI goal is to reduce recidivism to 25 percent within two more years and 24 percent within five years.

Last month the U.S. Justice Department said Georgia will receive $6 million over three years to support prisoner reentry. The breakdown is $3 million for recidivism reduction, $1.75 million for faith-based prison in-reach, $750,000 for pardons and parole and $500,000 to improve justice information systems. New employee salaries and benefits will be paid by the federal grants for one year before those positions transition to state budget dollars.

The 2015-year pilot projects are in Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Macon and Savannah. Ten pilot locations have been selected for 2016 and 2017 but not the order in which they will launch before the initiative is expanded statewide by the end of the 2018 calendar year.

Neal describes GA-PRI as “one plan, one strategy” but he also says, “We’re going to see that our local councils are not going to look the same from one site to the next. Reentry plans are not going to be identical because each site has a different set of assets and barriers and gaps and quite frankly, a different set of returning citizens who are coming back as well.”

The heart of this initiative is to provide former offenders with improved health and mental health services, housing and employment opportunities, training and more consistent positive contact. Neal warned the council that Georgia should not waste “an incredible opportunity’ to build upon some of the early successes since GA-PRI launched about one year ago.

The Pew National Conference on Justice Reinvestment will be held in November in San Diego. Georgia will discuss the impact of reforms before and since the Council was created in 2011. Adult criminal justice, juvenile justice and prisoner reentry policies were addressed in the 2012 – 2014 legislatures. Here is some of the data Georgia will present:

• Adults in custody declined from 60,818 in 2007 to 56,203 in 2014.
• Adults on probation increased from 142,663 in 2007 to 165,494 in 2014.
• Adults on parole increased from 20,823 in 2007 to 25,195 in 2014.
• The adult violent offender population increased from 60% in 2007 to 68% in 2014.
• The adult non-violent offender population decreased from 40% in 2007 to 32% in 2014.
• County jail backlog expenditures declined from $25 million in 2012 to $40,000 in 2014 after the statewide adoption of mandatory electronic sentencing packages.
• County jail populations are down from 94% capacity in 2010 to 78% capacity in 2014.

The Council agenda for November includes discussion on several possible recommendations:

• Creation of a juvenile justice “data dictionary” to ensure common language is used.
• Standardization of juvenile court data exchanges to create uniformity across the state.
• Adoption of a universal school discipline code to standardize juvenile discipline.
• More discussion about community-based juvenile detention alternatives.
• A hard focus on adult misdemeanor private probation transparency proposals.
• Potential changes to “life without parole” for non-violent recidivist drug offenders.
• Clarifications to criminal records expungement under the adult “First Offender Act”.
• Other topics could also be placed on the agenda.

The Council will schedule at least one December meeting before issuing its final report that is due to Governor Nathan Deal before the General Assembly returns on January 12, 2015.

(Mike Klein is a journalist who has held management and content leadership positions with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia Public Broadcasting and CNN where he was Vice President of News Production. Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)

October 31, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting Smart on Georgia Crime Moves Beyond Getting Tough

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Not long ago, the national philosophy behind criminal justice policy was to lock offenders away and teach them a lesson. This was popular with politicians who found that it played well before crowds and it was popular in communities where prisons and jails created jobs. Some folks even seemed to celebrate the idea that prisons were real hellholes.

This philosophy worked great if you did not care about creating better citizens in people who had made a mistake but could be rehabilitated; if you did not want to think about the effect of mingling juveniles with hardened adult criminals; if you did not care about the spiraling cost to support the expansion of incarceration — just a few of many things you could avoid thinking about.

No one reason caused inmate populations to expand but many contributed: declining family structures; more children with one biological parent or none; the failure of families to emphasize learning; neighborhoods without jobs; the widespread availability of illegal narcotics; the dependency society mindset in which government is expected to pay everyone’s bills; you can go on and on.

Some insightful people began to understand that criminal justice expenditures could not expand forever. Ohio did some good work in the mid-1990s but the reform movement really took hold after Texas began to implement community-based alternatives to incarceration about seven years ago.

Nobody has ever accused Texas of being soft on crime. The Texas Public Policy Foundation was a real reform driver, as was the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Today, the evidence points to Georgia as a national leader.

Five years ago, Georgia was on the cusp of a criminal justice meltdown. The state’s adult prison population had doubled over two decades to 56,000 inmates and the incarceration budget had doubled to $1 billion per year. That did not include the costs to administer probation and parole.  And it was projected to get worse: The prison system would need to house 60,000 inmates by 2016, costing $264 million for new prison construction. All the annual operational costs were above and beyond the projected capital investment.

Prisons and jails were overcrowded and budgets were blowing up. It was ugly.

This week, however, encouraging trends were reported at the criminal justice reform council meeting in Atlanta:

  • The state has reduced its adult prison population to 52,000 inmates.
  • The number of annual new prison commitments is down from 21,600 in 2009 to 18,000 last year.
  • Statewide, total jail populations are down from 44,000 four years ago to about 37,000 today.
  • Non-violent, low-risk offenders who would have been in prison now have a better chance to succeed in community-based programs.

There is more: By getting state-sentenced inmates out of county jails more quickly, the state reduced its annual payments to county jailers from $25 million in FY 2012 to just $40,000 in FY 2014, which ended in June. This was possible, in part, because every county now files its sentencing papers electronically, saving days, weeks, even months.

At the same time, thanks to new juvenile community-based alternative programs, state juvenile courts reduced new youth secure detention commitments by 62 percent between October 2013 and June 2014. More than 1,600 youths were kept out of secure detention.

The sea change that made changes like this possible started with Governor Nathan Deal in 2011, when his executive order created a criminal justice reform council to differentiate between serious, hardened felons and people who pose little or no risk to public safety. The phrase that you often hear is to create a distinction between people who scare us and people who make us mad. Is a non-violent personal drug addict better off in substance abuse care or bunking with a killer?

The encouraging news you have read about here should not be interpreted as more than a very optimistic report about changes that will take years to implement. Indeed, the Council continues to wrestle with how to reintegrate released former offenders back into the community. Putting them away is hard, giving them the best possible chance to succeed once they return home is even more complicated.

That said, there is nothing wrong with pausing to celebrate something that is working.

(Mike Klein is a journalist and media executive who has held leadership positions with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia Public Broadcasting and CNN where he was Vice President of News Production.  Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)

September 17, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Astonishing Early Results from Georgia Juvenile Justice Reform

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Buoyed by freshly funded incarceration alternatives, Georgia reduced new juvenile justice detention commitments by an astonishing 62 percent during the nine month period that ended in June. As a result, the average daily secure population rate is also trending down as is the length of time juveniles are waiting for a detention center placement.

“While it’s still early, we feel great about where we are,” Department of Juvenile Justice assistant deputy commissioner Joe Vignati told the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform on Tuesday, September 9. This was the Council’s first meeting since May although several committees met during the summer.

DJJ Deputy Commissioner Carl Brown led off with an historical overview of Georgia juvenile justice that recalled a $300 million annual budget in 2012, nearly two thirds of that amount spent on secure detention at $90,000 per bed per year. Brown said traditionally 25 percent of youths were incarcerated for low level offenses, misdemeanors and status offenses. Forty percent were assessed as being low risk to re-offend.

Juvenile justice was the 2012 Criminal Justice Reform Council’s principal focus and it resulted in a new way of thinking about kids. Juveniles who commit the most serious crimes and who pose a threat to public safety should be incarcerated and dealt with appropriately, but there would be new community-based program options for kids who primarily are just dysfunctional, sometimes severely so, but without criminal intentions.

House Bill 242 created a framework for alternative programs. Governor Nathan Deal’s FY 2014-15 budgets provided more than $13 million to help create community-based services. The first measurement is the nine-month period that began in October 2013 and ended in June. “Here’s the big bang, what have we achieved?” said DJJ assistant deputy commissioner Joe Vignati.

During the 2012 calendar year juvenile court judges sentenced 2,603 youths to incarceration. That became the base year with an objective goal to reduce the number by 15 percent or 390 fewer juveniles sentenced to incarceration between October 2013 and June 2014. Instead of 15 percent it was 62 percent and instead of 390 fewer sentences it was 1,614 fewer sentences.

Youths incarcerated at secure facilities declined 14 percent from 1,673 in October 2013 to 1,440 in June 2014. The number of youths awaiting a detention bed placement was down from 269 at the beginning of October 2013 to 157 at the end of June 2014, and it continues to improve.

“As of yesterday it’s my understanding that we have only 39 youth awaiting placement,” Vignati told the Council. “This is important because we make sure we are getting kids where they need to be. Also, now we are able to operate safe, secure facilities. We don’t have overcrowding.”

To learn more, watch these YouTube Channel videos recorded at the meeting:

Juvenile Justice Presentation, Part One

Juvenile Justice Presentation, Part Two

(Mike Klein is a journalist and media executive who has held leadership positions with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia Public Broadcasting and CNN where he was Vice President of News Production.  Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)

September 17, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Chattahoochee Hills Charter … Learning in the Natural World

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Playing in the dirt will have an educational twist when Chattahoochee Hills Charter School opens next Monday in south Fulton County. With its emphasis on the environment, learning will take place inside and outside and classrooms will have removable walls that open to the great outdoors for hybrid inside – outside learning.

“We are part of the natural world,” said Chattahoochee founding Principal Chad Webb. “It takes all of us to create an environment that is safe and healthy and sustainable. I need individuals who want to get down and dirty with the scholars. Whatever we can do to create responsibility, stewardship and sustainability is our goal.”

With its emphasis on nature, all kids will engage in “community investigations.” This year first graders will reintroduce native plants to campus retention ponds. Eventually each classroom will cultivate an organic garden and professional chefs will teach Chattahoochee Charter kids how to prepare meals with garden crops when the new cafeteria kitchen is ready next year.

Three hundred K-5 students are enrolled. The wait list is 50 students. Most children reside in south Fulton with a heavy concentration from the Serenbe community that emphasizes nature, well-being and fulfillment.

CHCS-LOGOChattahoochee Hills also enrolled students from Atlanta, Palmetto, Hapeville, Fairburn and Union City. “We have a large net,” said Webb. School transportation is not an option so parents must make their own travel plans, regardless of distance.

Next Monday’s opening is two or three weeks later than when most Georgia public school systems re-opened and Webb said the reason is simple, “The buildings were not ready.” Thirteen buildings are being constructed on an 11-acre campus with three more acres still available for expansion.

This year Chattahoochee Charter will have traditional holiday breaks in November, December and a spring break. Whether the school adopts a more staggered calendar with multiple breaks similar to many public school systems will be decided next year.

Five years in development, Chattahoochee Hills received a state commission charter only to see that authorization vanish when the Georgia Supreme Court vaporized the state charter schools commission. Chattahoochee will open with Fulton County local authorization.

Chattahoochee Hills Charter School Facebook Photo

Chattahoochee Hills Charter School Facebook Photo

This year’s population is almost equally split between students who attended private and public school last year. Chattahoochee will open with 24 classroom, special education and reading teachers with an 18-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, less for kindergarten classrooms. Before and after school care will be available with a separate staff.

Webb said Chattahoochee has a $3.3 million first year operational budget with total personnel the largest obligation at $2 million. The school anticipates $8,600 in per pupil public funding and it has a very aggressive private fund-raising campaign. First year-construction costs came in at $3.6 million. The next fund-raising phase will finance new sixth grade facilities, an administration building with a sports gymnasium and cafeteria that should be finished in time for the fall 2015 school year.  Sixth grade will be added next year, seventh grade in fall 2016 and eighth grade in fall 2017.

With its emphasis on arts, agriculture and the environment Chattahoochee Charter has forged many unique partnerships that include the nearby 840-acre Cochran Mill Nature Center and the 100-acre Many Fold Farm that raises sheep for meat and cheese production. The nature center and farm both offer educational programs for kids.

Science will be integrated into all subjects and Webb said teachers who survived the six-hour interview process must have an appreciation for nature. “I told my staff, when you go home with dirt on your clothes you had a good day,” said Webb, “because you were really immersed in learning and you had the kids engaged. I told all the staff that has been hired, I need individuals who want go get down and dirty, literally.”

Chattahoochee Hills Charter School website

Chattahoochee Hills on Facebook

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 18, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Feds Approve New Georgia Juvenile Justice Reform Dollars

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Federal juvenile justice officials have noticed Georgia’s aggressive reforms and must like what they see because Washington is offering to pony up hundreds of thousands of new dollars to help the state implement ongoing juvenile reforms. On Monday the U.S. Justice Department said it could make up to $600,000 available this year, with similar offers in Hawaii and Kentucky.

The announcement said implementation grant funds would be used “to strengthen diversion and community-based options that will reduce their out-of-home population, avert millions of dollars in otherwise anticipated correctional spending, reduce recidivism and protect public safety. OJJDP applauds the efforts of Hawaii, Kentucky and Georgia and is committed to supporting states that undertake comprehensive juvenile justice reform.”

OJJDP is the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Department of Justice. Georgia has partnered with technical assistance expert organizations during adult and juvenile justice reforms including the Public Safety Performance Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Vera Institute.  Their role generally is data research and analysis.  Essentially, these organizations help you understand what the facts are, what they mean and the possible options and paths ahead.

Georgia adult and juvenile justice reforms are modeled on incarcerating serious offenders who pose a public safety risk, creating community-based models for offenders who do not pose a safety risk, and, improving mental health and drug abuse services to individuals who need help.

Georgia wants to stabilize existing incarcerated populations, slow or reverse the rate of growth in those populations and, reduce recidivism which is the re-incarceration rate within three years. Georgia adult offenders have a one-in-three incarceration rate, which is considered a failure.

Governor Nathan Deal started the criminal justice reform process in January 2011 with the appointment of a council to study adult corrections. Lawmakers enacted recommendations from the council in 2012, and they passed juvenile reforms in 2013. The implementation of juvenile reforms began in earnest in January this year, so the process remains in its earliest phase.

The Pew Charitable Trusts wrote this analysis about Georgia juvenile reforms last year.

Private nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher learning are eligible to apply. The grant window is tight. Grant applications must be submitted not later than July 16, 2014. Click here to learn more about the grant in this U.S. Department of Justice announcement.

Additional Resources:

U.S. Justice Department Grant Announcement

Georgia Seeks $6.75 Million for Prisoner Re-Entry Implementation

House Bill 1176 – Adult Criminal Justice Reform Legislation

House Bill 242 – Juvenile Justice Reform Legislation

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

(Published Tuesday, June 17, 2014)

June 17, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Foster Care Youth Always Need Someone in Their Corner

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Crystal Williams did not have a regular kid life. She had no father at home. Her baby brother died from sudden infant death syndrome. A grandmother and other relatives helped to raise Crystal and two sisters. Her mother moved the family from Memphis to Atlanta when Crystal was nine, then into and through a series of homeless shelters. By age ten she was in Georgia foster care. No, Crystal Williams did not have a regular kid life. Nearly two decades later she has emerged as a forceful voice for foster care youth.

“Young people need permanent connections,” Williams said when she addressed the Georgia Child Welfare Reform Council last week in a meeting at Emory University Law School. “I can’t begin to describe how detrimental it is to age out of foster care or just be an adult period without people to connect to. Your car breaks down on the side of the road, you don’t know how to change a tire and you realize, I have no one to call; (that) is extremely detrimental.”

Williams is also a Child Welfare Reform Council member, appointed by Governor Nathan Deal specifically because she can speak eloquently and forcefully about what foster youth experience because she was one. “I hear stories like that all the time of young people who come to a place and they realize, wow, I have no one at this moment. My biggest thing is a person should never feel like that. No young person should ever feel like that in any situation.”

Williams spoke to the Council for nearly an hour; the video excerpt below is from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation YouTube channel. The Child Welfare Reform Council website videos section will upload her complete testimony and also segments from others who spoke Thursday.

CRYSTAL WILLIAMS

CRYSTAL WILLIAMS

Williams is a co-founder of EmpowerMEnt, an organization to assist foster youth. Last fall she appeared before a state Senate committee that heard testimony about a proposal to expand the role of private foster care providers. She has written one book, “Stronger, An Inspirational Journey,” and she focuses continuously on how to help foster youth.

“One thing I get a lot is, hey, you were in foster care, get over it,” Williams said. “I totally get that everybody had something difficult happen in their past, everybody had that moment where it was just hard and tough, but I do want to address we are discussing young people who have experienced complex trauma and it’s extremely real for these young people who have been through foster care and it’s going to look extremely different for every young person.”

The mission of the Child Welfare Reform Council is to consider every aspect of children services, including foster care, resources needed by investigators and courts, ideas to address a shortage of foster care homes, and especially, how to continue to assist children who age out of foster care and, theoretically, should be able to make it in the outside world.

“I maintain my connection with my adopted family. They are phenomenal people,” Williams said. “They actually adopted me as an adult. I heard a young person recently say, I’m 17 years old, nobody’s going to adopt me, nobody’s going to want me in their family. It hurts my heart because even if it’s not adoption, young people need permanent connections.”

Click here or click the video to watch this excerpt.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

(Published Monday, June 16, 2014)

June 16, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

GA New DFCS Leader: “If You’re Part of the Problem, Your Days Are Done”

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Governor Nathan Deal’s new hand-picked executive-in-charge of child protective services says, “If you’re part of the bureaucracy and you’re part of the problem, your days are done.”

Thursday afternoon the Governor’s Office said Bobby Cagle will become interim director at the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), effective Monday. Cagle moves from the Department of Early Care and Learning where he has been commissioner since his appointment by Deal in 2010.

Cagle told me later Thursday that he has been told to evaluate everything and make any recommendation. “I intend to go in with a very critical lens, look at all that we have going on, the people that are in place and my charge is clear from the Governor, assure safety and do what’s needed,” Cagle said. “That includes changing policies, changing personnel, asking for additional resources, anything that needs to be done, he has cleared the way for me to do it.”

Child protective service has been a division inside the state Department of Human Services. As soon as next year it could become a stand-alone agency, a change that would require legislation. “I guess that’s a potential,” Cagle said. “Rather than speculate what I would say is the Governor has told me to do whatever it takes to assure that the department is running appropriately. If that includes the creation of a (new child protective services agency) I will recommend that.”

Georgia child protective service has long suffered from, and some would say has earned, its reputation for inefficiency and failure to protect children.  Success does not make headlines; success does not end up on the evening news. The deaths of two children last year who were in state protective services further ruptured faith in policies and personnel, and generated massive negative headlines about Georgia child care.

GOVERNOR NATHAN DEAL

GOVERNOR NATHAN DEAL

What a difference six months makes.  In January Deal announced that his administration would fund 500 new caseworkers over three years. In March he created a child welfare reform council. Thursday Deal installed Cagle and new interim deputy director Katie Jo Ballard to manage DFCS and he ordered that DFCS report directly to his office, bypassing the Department of Human Services senior administration.

“What you can say is decision making has moved very close to the Governor,” Cagle said when we spoke at Emory Law School where he attended the second meeting of the Governor’s child welfare reform council on Thursday. Throughout our discussion Cagle frequently used the word urgency, specifically, “elevate the urgency around the idea that children are safe.” Safety will become more important than family reunification which has been a long-standing policy.

Cagle started his career as a North Carolina child protective services worker. Later he became a small county director and then deputy director in the North Carolina’s largest county. Prior to the DECAL assignment Cagle spent more than five years in Georgia child protective services. This move returns him to a public sector that he already understands.

BOBBY CAGLE

BOBBY CAGLE

“Child welfare has had some changes nationally over the years but the essential basics of child welfare have not changed,” Cagle said. “It is a matter of assuring that you have good contact with the public, getting those reports in, assuring that they are assigned out timely and that you’ve got an investigator talking to the children, talking to the family, assuring immediate safety and then beginning to work on the problems families may have that endanger children long-term. The essentials of that have not changed and I don’t suspect will. The approaches to how we work on family dynamics, how we do investigations, those have changed somewhat.”

Child protective services is about as complex as you can get in the public sector. Caseworkers interact with families who always are in some or extreme crisis. The lines between truth and fiction are not always clear and it is also true that young children often want to protect the adults who care for them even when those same adults are the ones who neglect, abuse or mistreat them. Caseworkers are not highly compensated and their burnout rate is significant.

So, there is nothing simple about any of this. A serious shortage of foster care homes and how to recruit and keep good foster parents is near the top of the urgent priorities list. “There are many groups that have worked on this for decades,” Cagle said. “We’ll continue to plug away, use the best knowledge that there is and the resources of this department to solve that issue.”

Cagle has another message for DFCS personnel. “If you’re there, you’re committed to children, you’re committed to doing the right things for children and families, then you’re safe.”

Additional Resource:

One Little Boy, One Little Girl, Two Unspeakable Child Murders

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

(Article published Friday, June 13, 2014)

June 13, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment